Friday, February 26, 2010

Does Good Writing Have to be Literary?

It’s unfortunate that a writer’s first experience with reading professional writing happens in English class with the study of literature. I say unfortunate because without knowing it, writers often get led down the wrong path to good writing. Sure, the books and stories read in literature class are supposed to be a sampling of the best. But just who decides what is the best and who are the best writers?

Because of this, writers get the mistaken impression that all good writing has to be literary. Hogwash! There are loads of great writers that never made it into the literary stratosphere.

The arts–and writing is an art–have always been a haven for those who want to be separate from the masses. In Victorian times, the wealthy, the patrons of the arts, took great pains to make sure they didn’t hobnob with the lower classes. They ate in separate dining rooms, shopped in separate stores, and read literary works. This is essentially where the division between “literature” and “writing” began. And it’s held on to this day, albeit in a lighter form.

For instance, there are some who think that if The New York Times isn’t on their coffee table on Sunday mornings that they aren’t getting the best in news. Many of these same people also swear by The New Yorker as their source of the best in writing. Again, HOGWASH!

The literary crowd probably doesn’t classify most of the best books, articles, and stories published daily as good writing. The reason for this is that the writers of these works got paid. Beginning back in the Victorian Era, the literary crowd frowned upon anyone who got paid for their writing. They claimed this was selling out. Perhaps this is one reason why many good writers died penniless.

Today, with the proliferation of technology, most people have access to good writing on a daily basis–without the approval or recommendation of the literary crowd. Good magazine articles, short stories published in magazines that people buy at the supermarket checkout, books of all kinds, and now even electronic books (e-books) that they can read on devices like Amazon’s Kindle, make it easy for nearly everyone to have access to good writing.

So if you’re a beginning writer, only look to literature for inspiration, not technique. Study all the writing around you and imitate it. That’s the only way you’ll succeed and have money to eat in the process.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Do You Know What Your Time is Worth?

Have you been considering freelance writing? If so, you need to figure out how much your time is worth. While you won’t have much control when it comes to be paid by editors of magazines and newspapers–essentially, they generally tell you what they’ll pay you–you still need to know if what they’re paying is enough for the time you put in on a project.

Many writers make the mistake of putting in the same amount of work on each article or short story they write and then get paid a different amount for each piece. When I first started writing, another writer told me that he put in the same amount of work for whatever he wrote. But unlike products produced by other businesses, no one piece of writing brings in the same amount from different publications. You may get paid $300 from one publication and $50 from another for exactly the same piece.

To judge whether you’re getting enough for the time you need to add up all of your monthly expenses–mortgage or rent, car payment, credit cards, etc.–and don’t forget to add in groceries, gasoline, heating fuel. Figure out how many hours you work a week on your writing, then divide the total by the number of hours. The result will be the hourly amount you’ll need to get for your writing.

While you probably won’t ever get that amount, at least you’ll be able to judge if what you’re getting paid is enough for the time you put into your work.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Invoices–The Key to Getting Paid

Many writers, especially beginners, live in an idealized ivory-tower world where the only thing that’s important is their writing. That’s fine if they’re independently wealthy. Unfortunately, few are.  Most work at 9-5 jobs and write either in their off hours or when the muse strikes them. They don’t particularly have to worry about whether their writing brings in any money.

If you want to make money at writing, you need to start using a staple of the business world–the invoice.

To get paid in business–and yes, writing is a business, especially if you do it full-time–you need to bill for your time. With every piece of writing you send to an editor, you need to include an invoice. This can be as simple as a sheet of paper with your name and address at the top, followed by the name of publication and, below that, the title of your piece and the amount due for it, or it can be an elaborate affair with a category code, invoice number, date, social security number, etc.

If you don’t want to design and print up your own invoice, then you can go to any office supply store and buy a pad of them, filling them in yourself. It’s infinitely more business-like to create your own. You can do this as a separate file to be sent with your writing file by E-mail, or of a simpler design that you can tack on at the end of the composition file. The former works better because the editor can print it out and send it on to the accounts receivable department of the publication. Remember, editors don’t pay you; someone in the accounting department does.

You should also always include an invoice, even if you aren’t being paid money for your work. While you should try not to write for free, you need to make the person on the other end know what your time is worth if they had paid for it. In this case, include a reasonable amount, and then mark the invoice “PAID.” Also, don’t forget to print a copy of every invoice you send out for yourself, so that you’ll have a record of all your sales for the year.

If you work on different types of writing–articles, public relations, fiction, etc.–you should consider including a category code on your invoice. This makes it easier for you to tally up the totals for each category at the end of the year. While you don’t need these totals for taxes, they help you see which categories are making more or less money, so you can plan for the next year.

While an invoice may seem an insignificant thing in your writing life, it’s more important than you  may realize.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Timeliness is Everything

Many beginning writers get frustrated when they get rejections from publishers for their work. While the writing skills of some may be lacking, the reason for the rejection could be one of timing. Many think they can send any article, short story, or book idea in at any time and the publisher will just love it. But it all comes down to timeliness.

To market your writing successfully, you have to think like a retailer. Department and discount stores would never think of putting out winter clothes in January. Winter is already here. Instead, they put out their winter collections in October or November, several months ahead of when the clothing might actually be worn. Ads for back-to-school clothing and other items now begin to appear in July, barely a month after most kids have just gotten out of school for summer vacation.

So to get your writing to an editor at the right time, you have to think ahead. Whatever you’re sending out now–except articles to newspapers if you can find any to take them–should  be on topics that will appeal to editors three to six months from now. This works especially well with seasonal subject matter.

However, you may write about subjects that are what I call “evergreens.” These are ones that could appeal to an editor any time of year. Even so, you still have to get things out ahead–at least 2-3 months for short stories and magazine articles, and perhaps a year ahead for a book idea. It’s not what readers are reading now, but what they will read in the future that counts.